PAD is a common circulation problem in which the arteries that carry blood to the legs or arms become narrowed or clogged. This interferes with the normal flow of blood, sometimes causing pain, but often causing no symptoms at all. The most common cause of PAD is atherosclerosis, often called “hardening of the arteries.” Atherosclerosis is a gradual process in which cholesterol and scar tissue build up, forming a substance called “plaque” that clogs the blood vessels. In some cases, PAD may be caused by blood clots that lodge in the arteries and restrict blood flow. Left untreated, this insufficient blood flow can lead to limb amputation in some patients.
In atherosclerosis, the blood flow channel narrows from the buildup of plaque, preventing blood from passing through as needed, restricting oxygen and other nutrients from getting to normal tissue. The arteries also become rigid and less elastic, and are less able to react to tissue demands for changes in blood flow. Many of the risk factors – high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes-may also damage the blood vessel wall, making the blood vessel prone to diffuse plaque deposits.
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- The most common symptom of PAD is called intermittent claudication – leg pain that occurs when walking or exercising and disappears when the person stops the activity.
- Other symptoms of PAD include: numbness and tingling in the lower legs and feet, coldness in the lower legs and feet, and ulcers or sores on the legs or feet that don’t heal.
Many people simply live with the pain, assuming it is a normal part of aging, rather than reporting it to their doctor.
- PAD is a disease of the arteries that affects 10 million Americans.
- PAD can happen to anyone, regardless of age, but it is most common in men and women over age 70.
- PAD can also be found in individuals over age 50 with a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, or who smoke.
- PAD affects 12-20 percent of Americans age 65 and older.
Lifestyle – Often PAD can be treated with lifestyle changes. Smoking cessation and a structured exercise program are often all that is needed to alleviate symptoms and prevent further progression of the disease.
Angioplasty and Stenting – Interventional radiologists pioneered angioplasty and stenting, which was first performed to treat peripheral artery disease. Using imaging for guidance, the interventional radiologist threads a catheter through the femoral artery in the groin to the blocked artery in the legs. Then he or she inflates a balloon to open the blood vessel where it is narrowed or blocked. In some cases this is then held open with a stent, a tiny metal mesh cylinder which acts as a scaffold. This is a minimally invasive treatment that does not require surgery, just a nick in the skin the size of a pencil tip.
Get Tested for PAD If You
- Are over age 70
- Are over age 50 and have a family history of vascular disease, such as PAD, aneurysm, heart attack or stroke
- Have high cholesterol and/or high blood lipids
- Have diabetes
- Have ever smoked or smoke now
- Have an inactive lifestyle
- Have a personal history of high blood pressure, heart disease, or other vascular disease
- Have trouble walking that involves cramping or tiredness in the leg muscles with walking or exercising, which is relieved by resting
- Have pain in the legs or feet that awakens you at night